“The level of detail and craft is something that’s inscribed within the original design concept. And so when I begin to draw, I know what kind of detailing I want the building to have” – Tadao Ando
I am certain that I had seen many details in my life before my introduction to design, but the first detail to I actually noticed and remembered were the ironwork ‘baton’ pieces that rested angled against the outside windows of the Tea Room of the Glasgow School of Art by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
The definition of the word detail will lead you to many meanings.
One definition states that a detail is an “attention to or treatment of a subject in individual or minute parts”, while another talks about the detail as “intricate, finely wrought decoration”. Of the numerous definitions, two that are most interesting to me for this post outline a detail as 1) the philosophy and process of detailing while another take on detail references 2) the detail itself.
The Tea Room exterior window detail was intriguing to me because the detail, in a way, contained a little bit of the DNA characteristic of the design for the Glasgow School of Art: a linear, sculptural stem with an organic, lacy decorative “bulb” – reminiscent of complex plants as they dry and curl on themselves. The holistic approach of the detailed articulation of this project – interior and exterior – gave me a full understanding of detail and how it is integral to a design. The Glasgow School of Art is an exploration in the philosophy and process of detailing and at the same time, a project that can focus on a detail in itself.
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Another fascinating detail I later learned about was the textile block reinvented by Frank Lloyd Wright in the early 1920’s. One general, but basic tenant of design is to take the “ordinary” and make it “extraordinary” and this was Wrights’ goal in using – as he phrased it the “ugly and cheap” concrete block and reinterpreting it into a “fabric capable of great variety in architectural beauty”.
The Millard House (La Miniatura) built in 1923 in California is another exercise rooted in pacing through the philosophy and process of a detail with respect to its original scale. Once the single textile block is understood structurally, spatially and aesthetically – it is carefully placed to envelop specific spaces of the home while at the same time, and on its own, stand as a clearly articulated detail. The reinterpretation is then seen as a decorative architectural element that adds visual texture and warmth to the space (color was added to the blocks to complement the wood).
There are endless ways to read and understand the details of interiors and exterior design. Details are most interesting and less of a “one hit wonder” when they are, as Todao Ando quoted “inscribed within the original design concepts” and address the interior and exterior environments simultaneously.